B3 — 53. The Path Forward

POV: Sora Moore

Recap: She learned a bit more about Shadow and learned that she’s not pure evil and that she’d been trying to crush her out of existence. Shadow brought back a few parts of Inari’s lecture to connect the dots.


Sora couldn’t look at Shadow; she kept her eyes down, hand gripping her left arm as she thought.  If I’m the mediating force, and I’ve been rejecting my Shadow, then what does that mean if I start leaning back that way?  She’s the darker side of me…

Her green irises slid back to the disfigured image of Anguish, still sobbing in a tight ball.  This is me in my darkest place, and this is her being nice to me.

A lump dropped down her throat as she recalled a few of Shadow’s threats.  This is the part of me that doesn’t joke around with her words.  Every word is true; she’ll do anything to survive … even if it means letting us reach the edge of death.

“What do you want?”  Sora whispered.

Shadow sniffed back her tears, but her face was still contorted in odium.  “Are we so disconnected? Think … no wonder you’ve made such a mess. What can I do that you can’t?”

“I … don’t know what you’re thinking.  I see … I’m still rejecting you.”

“Brilliant,” Shadow scoffed.  “Other than stating the obvious, where does that lead us?”

Sora bit down on her lip, sucking it back for a moment; the condescending mannerisms of Shadow sparked a bit of annoyance within her, but she knew she was in the wrong.  Yet, even knowing that, she was scared. With her memories of her aunt’s lecture brought back, her concerns brought back the conversation as Nathan appeared.

 “We’ll be fighting our darker self?  I’m a little scared of that aspect—I kind of fear what that might be inside me…”

Shadow laughed, drawing Sora’s focus; she was whipping away the tears that were leaving her eyes.  “Fight—fight me? That’s hilarious!”

Trying to ignore her, she turned back as Mary responded.  “That’s a natural reaction. We each have darkness inside us … everyone is capable of evil, but we are in control of what we choose to release.”

I understand that already, though; I know I’m the mediator.  This isn’t helping! What did Inari say about it?

On cue, her aunt spoke, and Sora sucked on her lip as she listened, trying to ignore Shadow folding her arms and tapping her feet impatiently for her to discover the answer.

“Control,” Inari said with a crisp tone.  “You mentioned the Yin and the Yang, Ashley.  Such a wonderful identification with so much depth.  The light and darkness inside us, cycling in balance; not separate, but combined into a whole.  Mary, you’ve studied some of Carl Jung, have you not?”

Mary’s eyes lit up.  “Oh, yes, I most definitely have.  He was a deep psychology genius. There were things that I disagreed with, but it’s Jung; he was an intellectual giant.”

Her aunt followed with the question, “I’ll ask this of everyone, what is the purpose behind evil?  What is it trying to convince you of? This pernicious element that corrodes human consciousness.

“Life is so unbearably cruel, unjust, random, and tragic, that reality itself would be better off if it never existed at all.  Everyone will go through moments with this malevolent element that latches onto your Core. It is not easy to rid yourself of this miasma; it takes real purpose, meaning, to accomplish that, and if you cannot find meaning, then you will drown in darkness.”

A low hum left Sora’s throat.  Shadow’s crude and cruel, but I don’t think that qualifies her as evil.  She’s not the devil or anything…

Her concentration broke as Shadow moaned.  “You’re so slow! No, I don’t believe in a devil, cause I raised this hell.  I was born ready to handle pressure; I don’t back down to anything. I’ll be the last one standing when all the giants fall!

“Everyone’s so scared; they won’t go where I will.  They won’t make the move’s necessary to get what they want, leaving every Shadow to scream in the dark while personalities like you play in the masquerade!  Just please, make a move!”

“What move?  I just don’t get it!”  Sora growled in frustration.

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“Knowing endless consequences,” Shadow groaned, gripping the side of her head.  “I feel so useless in this! Why … why is it such a curse to be the smart one?”

Face turning red, Sora turned back to Mary, trying to ignore Shadow’s lamentations.  

I know a part of me just can’t agree with Shadow … I just don’t know if what she’s saying is all right, and I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do.

“Hmm,” Mary looked up into the blackness.  “The Phoenix … there are times in your life where you have to identify in yourself flaws or insufficiencies that you must have a controlled burn, purging or discarding a part of yourself that doesn’t fit, like the rebirth of the Phoenix.  

“Jung’s idea of incorporating the Shadow plays out like … as you get older, you mature by reincorporating things about yourself that you lost when you were younger—integrate your Shadow or things that you’ve been rejecting about yourself.  One discards the flaws, while the other incorporates them.”

Ashley continued.  “It meant to dissolve and integrate.  So, connecting the Phoenix with dissolve and the shadow with integrate?”

Sora remembered this part of the discussion well since it had involved Wendy.  So, I need to let something burn off that’s getting in the way of integrating my Shadow.  Well … I got me into this mess by helping Mimi, and Inari said that wasn’t bad, but just a sacrifice.

Shadow is an extension of myself … I—that means I don’t fully think I should have helped her?  I’m rejecting the part of me that turns away people that need help.

“Finally getting to the tip of the iceberg?”  Shadow asked, rolling her eyes as she appeared behind Ashley, playing with one of the locks on Ashley’s shoulders.  “It seems there’s hope for the dimmest star in the heavens.”

Shadow prompted Inari to continue.  “If you really mean no, then what you’re saying is:  There isn’t anything you can do to me that will make me change my mind, or conversely, it means, I will play for higher stakes than you will.  And unless you have your aggression integrated, there isn’t a chance you can say that, not even a glimmer. If you did, without aggression, no one would take you seriously—they’d know it’s just a persona.”

Sora pulled her hands around, hugging her arm and side as Shadow released a sharp breath.  “Can you hear me now? It’s hard to hear someone that’s buried underground.”

Fen appeared in front of her, causing Sora’s throat to constrict; she smirked before shoving her to the floor.  “You, reject me? Fool!”

“Shadow!”  Sora growled.  “What’s the…” Her words died as Shadow walked around Fen, turned, and grabbed her by the throat.  Fen’s eyes bulged as Shadow lifted her off the ground, clawed fingers scratching at Shadow’s wrists as she choked.

“You honestly believe that your little stunt curbed Fen’s envy and animosity?  Mark my words, she’s plotting against us. Where is she going to go, outside?” She chuckled.  “Think a little deeper! Fen can’t go outside the Vulpes Realm unless she wants Bathin to pick her up, and she would never dream of striking a deal with him.  She’s seen first-hand what his deals look like; she’s too cautious.

“So, what then?  A scored Vulpes that projects all her problems on others, that’s obsessed with gaining power, and has been shown to do almost anything to get it.  One plus one, dear,” Shadow snickered.

Sora watched in horror as Shadow squeezed tighter; she flinched as bone snapped, making her ears twitch.  Fen’s struggles ceased, eyes dead, drool flowing down her mouth, past her hanging tongue.

She knew it wasn’t real, but still, it felt real; it was like watching herself in the act.  “So … I should have killed her?” Sora asked, voice hoarse.

Shadow grunted, tossing Fen’s limp body to the side; there wasn’t a scratch on her arm.  “That was the simplest answer, but not the only one.”

Sora followed Fen’s limp body as it tumbled across the darkness; it stopped, head facing her.  The terror etched on Fen’s face sent a shiver down her spine.

A soft laugh echoed around her as Shadow turned to face her.  “I won’t shiver, I won’t shake; I’m made of stone, and I don’t break.  Start me up, open my eyes, and turn me loose … you’ll see why.”

Sora shook her head.  “There’s something more in me than just you … I’m the mediator.  I get it; I need to let you in more, but not like this.”

“I’ll be a part of you until the very last day, Sora; you’ve spent your whole life taking the least of me, but you’ll need more than what you’ve used so far.  You can’t walk away from me anymore; look at the trouble you’ve caused!”

Sora turned as everyone, but Anguish and Shadow, vanished, and after a moment, Emilia appeared; she was lying down, still tucked beneath the dresses.

“Was Mimi’s life worth the trauma to just our daughter?  Are you the arbiter of ultimate justice? Should you meddle in this Realm’s system as the United States meddles in other country’s systems?”

“I don’t know…”

“Of course, you don’t.  Maybe you should! Maybe you shouldn’t … my point is, you’re so braindead that you can’t even decide.”

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“So you’d just let her die, and what then?”  She challenged, getting up to kneel beside Emilia.  “What kind of example would you set for Emilia?”

Shadow’s smile faded, and Sora noticed a change in her demeanor.  Turning to the side, she held her hands behind her back. “At least I’d be there for her,” she whispered.  “No … I’m just a shape in the shadow of grates. You’d need to lose it all to know what you lost.”

“Could you quit talking in riddles and give me a straight answer?”

“I am you … such a fool.  You know everything I’m telling you.  You think you’re doing something right?  We already learned how enabling is terrible, but still, you blind yourself.”  She shook her head. “We’re so disconnected that even I can’t understand you. Would I let Mimi die?  Yes, some will die too late, and some, too soon.

“Me … it haunts me, like no other … life gets harder when you love nothing else.  I’m just a side of you with no recourse; do you realize I would lie for you, die for you … my heart bleeds true.  I’d say a little prayer for the child in me, I swear … I used to be what I truly believed.

“Truth is,” her smile was sad as she turned toward her, “I don’t really have a place to go.  So, you’re stuck with me, and I’m stuck with you. All the words left unspoken … the pages I write.  You don’t take our situation seriously.”

“How can you say that?  I’ve done everything I can to get this far!  I saved people, I fought back, and I’m helping everyone unwind.  We can’t be serious all the time.”

Shadow chuckled softly.  “You’re blind to the darkness and everyone you know.  You always trust too much, as if it’s all you had. You look for the good, all the best intents, and you can’t see all the warning signs of demons crawling closer.

“You’ve earned all the pain and consequences while I wait in this prison, the weight of your pride collapsing on top of us.  I can feel them closing in around us, and only you can get the pieces to fit it all together. Inari has given us everything we need, but you’re causing so many issues.”

“And you could make everything right?”  Sora asked with a raised eyebrow.

“There are only two types of people,” Shadow shrugged.  “You are weak, or you are me.”

“And who’s the prideful one?”  Sora scoffed.

Shadow’s nose twisted.  “You should have seen the writing on the wall; instead, we’re left to fall into another trap that could have been avoided.”

“Do you even have a heart?”

Shadow licked her lips as she strolled over to her, tails flicking to the left.  “Why don’t you find out.” She offered, pulling back her shoulders to puff out her chest.  “Right through the stone, can you hear my heartbeat? It beats through my bones … like no memory left me.  Of course, you wouldn’t understand that. We can live forever, but still, our misery will be here.

“Look at me; I’m like a mirror!”  She said with a bright smile. “See the lines that time drew?  Can you see them painted in our eyes? My heart beats heavy in an open chest; no one can fix me if you’re part of the problem.”

Bending down to her level, Shadow pursed her lips as she looked at her, and for a moment, she could see something more inside her clear green irises.  “I get that you had it rough … I know better than anyone. I could be the voice inside of your head. I could say goodbye, and you’d know where I went … but people get sick, and they’ll watch you bleed.

“Our dad is missing.  We have a demon and Kitsune plotting to kidnap us for some unknown purpose.  We’re in a hostile world that we know doesn’t accept strangers. It’s a guarantee that we’ve been discovered.  Fen is a wildcard that will come back to bite our tails. Emilia is now going to go through a mental struggle to come to terms with the idea that we’re all vulnerable.

“We have our hands full with our own problems, but you’ve put thousands of hands at your feet.  Did you really think it would stop with one Vulpes? The moment you help one, three more will show up.  How can you shoulder that much when you don’t even have the power to protect yourself? You can’t say no, and that will hurt you more than any other person can.  If you can’t understand that, then you’re hopeless.”

“I get it … but I helped Mary, Ashley, Wendy … so many people.  What would I do right now if they were still traumatized?”

“I’m not talking about them,” Shadow sighed, scratching her left ear.  “You can’t understand evil intent if you can’t imagine it yourself. You handicap yourself, and you chose to free these Vulpes, which opened up a whole new threat.”

Sora followed Shadow’s eyes as she looked over at Anguish with a low groan.  “Well … I’ve burnt as many bridges as I can,” she muttered, straightening before putting her hands on her hips.  “I just have to leave it at that.”

“Does that mean we’re done?”  Sora asked as Emilia vanished.

“Sora,” she turned back to face her Shadow, tails stiffening as Shadow embraced her.  “I only want the best for us … it was nice having this time with you.”

Pulling away, Sora was stunned at how genuine her reflection’s smile was.  “So, tell me, why have I been sent down this road … forever? You’ve been breaking since I can remember, and I’m always the one here … putting you back together.”

Sora’s eyes fell as silence followed, only broken by the occasional whimpers to her right; every word Shadow spoke felt true.  A lump dropped down her throat; there was something familiar in Shadow’s embrace. It was like her father’s gentle touch.

“I…”

When she paused, Shadow closed her eyes for a moment before opening them with a reassuring smile on her lips.  “We were undefined … steady as the tide. Take this sinking ship out of the firing line; you’ll go your way, and I’ll go mine.  When the morning comes … hopefully, the fog will lift, and you’ll see my scanning eyes, searching for your return.”

Releasing her shoulders, Shadow walked over to Anguish before turning back to her.  “The simple things and subtleties always stay the same … like a widow’s heart, we fall apart but never fade away.  Somewhere out there is a binding force that will link us again.” 

Fire lit across Shadow’s tails and she brushed them up against Anguish’s contorted frame; the cancer burst into flames, and almost instantly, Sora felt relief.  A force grabbed hold of her, and she was firmly pulled into the sky, watching in shock as Shadow waved her off. Mary’s face appeared before her; it was as if she had just awoken from a dream.

“Sora?  Oh, thank goodness … did it work?  Are you okay?”

Blinking, Sora sat up, brushing back her hair; she looked down, realizing she was lying on Mary’s lap.  A lump dropped down her throat as she remembered to swallow. Clearing her voice, she licked her lips as they felt dry.  “I … met my Shadow.”

The worry lines on Mary’s face deepened.  “What happened? Is there anything I can do?  You’re not shaking anymore. So, did it work?”

“Yeah … my Shadow burned away the … whatever it was that was doing that to me.  I’m a little conflicted with how she left things, though.”

Sitting against the bed frame, Sora ran her hand through her hair, pulling it back as she tucked her legs up to her chest.  She sucked on her lower lip while scanning the room. Gurakuqi, Emilia, and Mimi were still lying on the ground, breathing softly.

Sora’s vision fell as she folded her fingers against the back of her head; she could hear Alice downstairs, clearly nervous by her pacing.

“My Shadow was nothing like I thought…”

“Scary?”  Mary asked, shifting her legs to the left to brace herself with her left arm.

“Maybe more than Kari … before I was a Vulpes.  She wouldn’t hesitate to kill, torture, steal … anything if it meant getting what I want.  She really was a monster, but she was more than that, too … sophisticated, smart, and familiar.  I felt something for a moment in the end; there was a connection that felt so … comforting.

“She was confusing, but at the same time, I know she was me, and I knew everything she talked about.  Her urgency scares me … I think it scares her. I know there’s something missing, and I know I’m not complete without her.  How I might change terrifies me, but it almost feels inevitable on some fundamental level.”

“What was she talking about?”  Mary pressed. “Can you explain it to me?”

“At first,” Sora released her fingers to hug her legs to her chest, “she was angry, but looking back, I know she was holding back.  She could have been so much rougher, but she just wanted me to listen. She was so frustrated with me. I rejected her, and she was hurt.”

A sad smile touched her lips.  “I got a taste of how foul my mouth can be; she hurled insults at me like she was the queen of food fights.  Then, she tried explaining things to me … and she was mostly right, but she kept getting annoyed that I couldn’t understand her.”

Mary hummed, shifting her stance a little before managing her hair to keep out of her eyes.  “It is a part of you, and if you were rejecting those elements, then it makes sense why you couldn’t fully grasp what she was trying to explain.”

“At the end,” she paused, glancing over at Emilia.  “It was like she was telling me she’s not entirely the monster I think she is.  I mean, she could do some terrible things, but I saw so many sides of her in such a short time.  How long have I been under?”

Mary’s lips pursed, following her gaze to Emilia.  “Less than a minute. After about forty seconds, you collapsed.  Your pulse almost faded entirely … I feared the worst.”

Sora shook her head, and she took a deep breath.  Shadow’s right, I’m being too indecisive.  Right now, I need to deal with the fallout of my decision and get things back under control.  I need to find Kari…

She froze, vision falling to her knees.

“What is it?”  Mary asked, eyes darting from her stiff tails to her face.  “Is something wrong?”

“I just … why did I think—that?”

Getting up, Sora chewed on the inside of her left cheek for a moment before making the decision.  If that crossed my mind, then I should probably follow it.  Right?

“That’s your choice,” Inari said with a bright tone.  “I’m just glad to have passed this incident.”

Sora walked over to her daughter and picked her up; with her enhanced strength, Emilia’s weight was nothing.  She was careful with her head but realized she needed a little help as she glanced down at her tails.

“Mary, could you pull her hair around to her front, and carry her tails?”

Quickly getting to her feet, Mary moved to comply.  “Of course, but where are we going? Are we really going all the way back to the others?”

“Yes, I’d feel much safer leaving her with Eyia, Jin, and the others.  I feel like I need to find Kari … I don’t know why, but I know it’s what my Shadow wants.  It’s like a little voice in my head … it’s so close to something she mentioned. Are you ready?”

“I—umm, yeah, okay, but what about Mimi, Gurakuqi, and Alice?”

Sora glanced down at the two sleeping forms of Mimi and Gurakuqi.  “Alice can take care of them while I get things sorted out in my head … okay, let’s move.”

She carefully walked through the door, keeping her daughter wrapped up in the dresses.  Proceeding down the stairs and explaining the situation to a concerned Alice, Sora walked through the street with her daughter in her arms.

She noticed the eyes following them, and Mary warned her of the danger of the newcomer and rumors that might spread, but she didn’t see any other option.  This was just one of the failures under her belt; just like her aunt had warned, she wasn’t keeping a watchful eye.


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